When it comes to the dance music charts, Detroit native Quentin Harris seems to have wrapped things up. Harris, who is in mid-30s, lives in New York and is an integral figure in the house music scene.
He's had a number of remixes that were dance chart hits, including Mariah Carey's "Don't Forget About Us" and Floetry's "Superstar," while his takes on India.Arie's "Ready for Love " and "Cloud 9" for R&B singer Donnie have caught on in the club scene. On "No Politics" his first full-length album, released last fall, he solidified his stake as an innovator in deep-house territory, with a sound based heavily in programming but featuring added textures from the multi-instrumentalist.
Long before he made the move to New York, Harris developed his talent during the mid-'90s in Detroit hip-hop circles. He was known as the guy with the trumpet at open mic gigs at Maurice Malone's Hip Hop Shop, the clothing store that was a legendary incubator of Detroit's hip-hop scene. Meanwhile, Harris was expanding his knowledge of dance music behind the counter of a Record Time store, the hot spot for DJ culture.
Hip-hop inspired his move to New York in 1998 as he became a member of the group Masterminds. But the house scene was where Harris found his niche. He signed to DJ Timmy Regisford's Unrestricted label in 2004, opening doors for dance singles and club residencies. Harris maintains a constant music production schedule between traveling internationally for gigs.
He's not playing the Movement festival itself, but will be in town for one of the top parties of the weekend, a Saturday night gig that will feature techno pioneer Derrick May.
QUESTION: Tell me how the Detroit music legacy plays in your music.
ANSWER: Things were funky in Detroit. Prince was there, Parliament Funkadelic was there and techno. Most people I know in Detroit, all of that is in their music. It comes naturally by being exposed to it.
Q: What made you gravitate toward music in the first place?
A: It was always around me. Music was everywhere. It was something I always wanted to do. At a young age, I used to have physical fights with my uncle over who was better -- Parliament Funkadelic or the Beatles. When I was 5, I wanted to be Prince. My father said that I wouldn't pay attention to anybody unless they have a musical note on their forehead.
Q: What was it that drew you to hip-hop?
A: I have two uncles. I knew how to play instruments and one would take me to the studio. They would program drums. I was directing how it should sound. I didn't know that was being the producer. That sparked my interest in making music.
Q: How did you end up playing trumpet at the Hip Hop Shop?
A: It's always so strange how things happen. I was working at Arby's on 8 Mile between Lahser and Greenfield. Before (Maurice Malone) had the shop, he used to have a party downtown. I would catch the bus on Gratiot. One day, I decided to bring my trumpet. I got known for being the guy with the trumpet. The first person I met there that I really had a connection with was Proof. It kept going from there.
When Maurice had the store, on Saturdays I would play during open mic sessions. I was in a group called the Biochemists -- myself, Elzhi. Em was there at that time.
Detroit hip-hop to me -- because of Jay Dee -- did not sound like anyone else's hip-hop. It was stripped down and still melodic. At the same time, I was working at Record Time, and Mike Huckaby gave me job. I would make house music and I wouldn't let anybody hear it.
Q: What is your take on house music?
A: Listening to house in Detroit is different to how I'm listening to it now. If you listened to early techno, it was mechanical electronic music, but it has a soul to it. I always tell people in New York that "Good Life" (by Inner City) was a techno record. I think I've been known for bridging those two gaps.
Q: What's it like to work with major label artists?
A: It's a double-edged sword. I've always loved pop records. If a song is good, it works. It doesn't matter who is singing. I make records for people who want to feel and have a good time. There are a lot of people who sit at work Monday through Friday who are not DJs. These people go to the club on the weekends. Working with those particular major label artists has given me an insight on how to work with people; it enables me to be ambidextrous.
Q: What's the role of the club DJ?
A: The DJ's job is to entertain first and foremost the people on the floor, inform them and educate them. No more, no less.
Q: What are you working on in the studio now?
A: The Ultra Nate album. I'm working on a second album, which is called "Politically Correct." I'm a machine. I'm a workaholic. I once did a Nelly Furtado record on a plane.
Q: What are your feelings about playing in Detroit?
A: New Yorkers are jaded, I tell them to go someplace like Detroit where the clubs are small and then have an appreciation of all the options they have here. I'm really excited to come back home to play -- especially with Derrick May. This is a dream come true. My family still lives in Detroit. This gives me an opportunity to see them, taste mom's cooking. It's always good to go home.
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